Gilberto Freyre is considered one of the major figures in Brazilian thought. His essays exemplify rigorous scientific training combined with a keen artistic sensitivity to provide the reader with a glimpse of Brazilian society, particularly that of the northeast region.
Freyre’s life and work spanned most of the 20th century; he witnessed at first-hand many of the changes that took place in his native country—revolution, dictatorship (benevolent and repressive), Modernism, political apathy, political diversification, and democracy.
Throughout this turbulent century, Freyre was a methodical observer of society, and most of his insights were new and controversial, although many have come to be seen as part of the “national lore.”
In 1926 he wrote the Manifesto regionalista de 1926 (pub. 1952; Regionalist manifesto), in direct opposition to the ideals proposed during the Week of Modern Art (1922) that marked the beginning of Brazilian Modernism. The Manifesto develops two interrelated themes: the defense of the region as a unit of national organization and the conservation of regional and traditional values in Brazil in general and in the northeast region in particular.
As a scientist, Freyre followed the path established by Euclides da Cunha concerning miscegenation in the formation of the “Brazilian race.” Freyre, however, was more methodical and scientific in his writings. His greatest work, Casagrande e senzala (1933; Masters and Slaves), earned him international acclaim as the most solid interpretation of interracial relations to that date. The publication of Masters and Slaves marked the beginning of rigorous science essay production in Brazil. Critics have named this book as the first to separate scientific essays from purely academic and critical essays. Although other writers had already begun to study and write essays with sociocultural content, Freyre has rightfully earned recognition as the “Father of Brazilian Sociology.”
The relationship between “masters” and “slaves” is the basic premise of all of Freyre’s theories. Indeed, he paved the way for many of the current ideas concerning modern cultural studies and postcolonial observations. Only through understanding the nature of oppression—whatever its source—can one comprehend one’s culture. Similarly, only through “reading” the oppressor’s text—the text of the master—can one begin to understand one’s own text. Freyre applied his own thesis in his interpretation of Brazilian society. Unlike many essayists who describe Brazil in terms of what happens in the main population centers—São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro —Freyre studies the “periphery” of Brazilian society, including his native northeast and the northern region of Brazil. Both regions represent the “slaves” within a society, with many internal and external “masters.” Indeed, he criticizes the Brazilian elite, who habitually adopted customs they judged to be modern, emphasizing the “foreign” (French) over the “national” (Brazilian).
Freyre’s discourse is sober and precise. He uses a limited vocabulary characterized by only the most necessary scientific terminology. Like Graciliano Ramos, he limits the use of adjectives, providing the reader with a discourse that mirrors the dry conditions of the society and culture he describes. While not subscribing to the racist views founded on European positivism, Freyre is conservative in his views, particularly those that deal with women’s roles. His much-studied “masters and slaves” thesis falls short of including women as oppressed beings within a patriarchal society. Women’s roles, according to Freyre, are limited to those of wives and mothers. Indeed, his most emphatic (and, one should add, least scientific) view is that the best and only books women ought to read are cookbooks, particularly those that have been in the family for a long time; this, Freyre believes, will preserve the moral fiber of the family.
Freyre’s essays influenced not only scientific writing in Brazil, but also the development of the northeastern regionalist novel. Such writers as José Lins do Rego, Rachel de Queiroz, and Jorge Amado have all mirrored in their novels the social context and the language found in Gilberto Freyre.
CARMEN CHAVES TESSER
Gilberto de Mello Freyre. Born 15 March 1900 in Recife, Pernambuco. Studied at the American Colégio Gilreath, Recife, until 1917; Baylor University, Waco, Texas, 1918– 21, B.A., 1921; Columbia University, New York, 1921–22, M.A. in anthropology, 1922.
Traveled in Europe, 1922–23. Private secretary to the Governor of Pernambuco, Recife, 1927–30. Editor, A Província, Recife, 1928–30. Taught sociology at the Escola Normal, Recife, 1928–30. Exiled to Portugal, then traveled to Africa, 1930. Professor of sociology, University of São Paulo, 1935–38; visiting professor at various universities in Brazil, Europe, and the United States. Married Maria Magdalena Guedes Pereira, 1941:
one daughter and one son. Representative of Pernambuco, National Assembly, 1946, and in the House of Deputies, 1947–50. Brazilian Ambassador to the United Nations General Assembly, 1949, 1964. Supervisor, Northeast Brazil Social and Educational Research
Center, Recife, 1957–87. Director, Diogene and Cahiers Internationaux de Sociologie (International notebooks of sociology). Awards: several, including the Felippe d’Oliveira Award, 1934; Machado de Assis Prize, 1963; José Vasconcelos Gold Medal (Mexico), 1974; Moinho Santista Prize, 1974; honorary degrees from five universities. Member, São Paulo Academy of Letters, 1961, Brazilian Academy of Letters, 1962, and American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Knight Commander, Order of the British Empire (KBE), 1971. Commander, Legion of Honor (France), 1986. Died in Recife, 18 July 1987.
Essays and Related Prose
Casa-grande e senzala: Formação de familia brasileira sob o regimen de economia patriarchal, 1933; as Masters and Slaves, translated by Samuel Putnam, 1946
Artigos de jornal, 1935; revised, enlarged edition, as Retalhos de jornais velhos, 1964
Sobrados e mucambos, 1936; as The Mansions and the Shanties, translated by Harriet de Onís, 1963
Regiāo e tradição, 1941
Na Bahia em 1943, 1944
Perfil de Euclydes e outros perfis, 1944
Brazil: An Interpretation (lectures), 1945; revised, enlarged edition, as New World in the Tropics: The Culture of Modern Brazil, 1959
Manifesto regionalista de 1926, 1952
Um brasileiro em terras portuguesas, 1952
Problemas brasileiros de antropologia, 1959
Ordem e progresso, 1959; as Order and Progress: Brazil from Monarchy to Republic, edited and translated by Rod W.Horton, 1970
O Luso e o trópico, 1961
Vida, forma e côr, 1962
6 conferências em busca de um leitor, 1965
Seleta para jovens, edited by Maria Elisa Dias Collier, 1971
A condição humana e outras temas, 1972
Além do apenas moderno: Sugestôes em torno de possiveis futuros do hotnen, em geral, e do homen brasileiro, em particular, 1973
The Gilberto Freyre Reader, translated by Barbara Shelby, 1974
O brasileiro entre os outros hispanos: Afinidades, contrastes, e possíveis futuros nas suas inter-relaçōes, 1975
A presença do açúcar na formação brasileira, 1975
Alhos e bugalhos: Ensaios sobre temas contraditórios, 1978
Préfacios desgarrados, edited by Edson Nery de Fonseca, 2 vols., 1978
Tempo de aprendiz (articles 1918–26), edited by José Antônio Gonsalves de Mello, 2 vols., 1979
Pessoas, coisas e animais: Ensaios, edited by Edson Nery de Fonseca, 1981
Other writings: two novels, poetry, a cookbook, and many books on Brazilian history and culture.
Foster, David William, and Walter Rela, in Brazilian Literature: A Research
Bibliography, New York: Garland, 1990
Arroyo, Jossianna, “El cuerpo del esclavo y la narrativa de la nación en Casa-Grande e senzala de Gilberto Freyre,” Lucero 4 (1993):31–42
Gilberto Freyre: Sua ciência, sua filosofia, sua arte, Rio de Janeiro: Olympio, 1962
Oliven, Ruben, Tradition Matters: Gaúcho Diversity in Brazil, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996
Sanchez-Eppler, Benigo, “Telling Anthropology: Zora Neale Hurston and Gilberto Freyre Disciplined in Their Field-Home-Work,” American Literary History 4 (1992):464–88
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